The definitive guide on team collaboration (2024 edition)

Customer service
May 30, 2024
10
min read
Written by
Alan
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We all know what team collaboration is, and in many shapes, forms and roles we do it on a daily basis. Of course, we're talking about the process of team members working together towards a common goal, sharing resources, expertise and ideas to achieve a shared objective.

Teamwork and team collaboration are often used interchangeably—and at points, they do overlap. However, there is a subtle difference: when team members with almost similar skills and under a leader make their contributions as individuals, that’s teamwork. When individuals with diverse skills, usually with no stricter hierarchy, explore tasks and discover solutions together, that’s collaboration.

On-site or remote, effective team collaboration is the foundational piece in modern work environments. However, the shift towards remote and hybrid work models has dramatically transformed the way teams collaborate. With team members located in different parts of the world, traditional in-person interactions are — or can be — the only mode of collaboration.

To stay productive and secure, teams need to adopt modern collaboration solutions that facilitate real-time communication, efficient task management and secure information sharing. Now, I want to dive into customer service teams, that's my speciality and why we're here right. So why is team collaboration important for your service team, and how can you improve on it? That's what we'll explore in this blog.

The importance of collaboration (and the right skills)

Collaboration is not just important; it is a key requirement of the modern work environment. A report Deloitte prepared for Google says that when employees collaborate: 

  • They work 15% faster, on average; 
  • 73% to do better work; 
  • 60% are innovative; and 
  • 56% are more satisfied.

We will dive into this — but first, some basics. 

Why is teamwork important in collaboration?

Teamwork is the very foundation of collaboration. With teamwork, individuals can pool their resources, expertise and experiences to achieve a common goal. When a group works reasonably well, it will outperform individual performance — teamwork can actually raise the group IQ (the sum total of the best talents of each member of the team. “In a highly collectively intelligent team, solutions provided by a group were systematically significantly better than solutions offered by any individual, including the smartest person in the room,” claims research by Science Magazine, as cited here

And it makes sense — each individual brings something different to the table that may have been otherwise overlooked. In teamwork, individual members can leverage diverse perspectives and skills and drive innovation and creativity. Moreover, they can enhance productivity and efficiency, meet deadlines, achieve milestones and build strong relationships and trust — all leading to a positive and supportive team culture. 

What are the three important skills for team collaboration?

Effective collaboration requires certain essential skills, but which ones are the most important? There is no one-size-fits-all answer. Much depends on the type of work environment (on-site or remote), the size of the team, team distribution and industry. But by and large, the following three are the most important skills for team collaboration that could work virtually for every team. 

1. Communication

First and foremost, communication is very important, irrespective of whether the communication is in-person or through a team collaboration tool. Per a McKinsey report, improved communication and collaboration could raise the productivity by 20 to 25 percent. Conversely, 70% of employees believe that wasted time is one of the worst consequences of poor communication.

In any work environment, team members must be able to clearly articulate their ideas and thoughts, actively listen to others, ask clarifying questions and seek feedback. They must provide constructive feedback that is specific, timely and actionable. It also involves using appropriate communication channels and tools, such as the tool assigned by the company, email, phone or video conferencing.

Coupled with communication is empathy. Because when you understand the perspectives of others, you can communicate your thoughts in ways other members can comprehend. Cognitive empathy, along with reading another person’s feelings accurately, makes for effective communication.

💡When your service team is dealing with customer communication day-in-day out, you want them to nail internal communication first. Because how can they work together to provide customers with great answers (at speed), if they can't communicate very well internally.

2. Adaptability

Another crucial — and often overlooked — skill is adaptability. But adaptability is not just about adjusting to the environment but more about bouncing back. “It means you’ve gone beyond simply enduring a challenge to thrive beyond it,” says Jacqueline Brassey, chief scientist at McKinsey & Company’s People & Organisational Performance Practice, as quoted in this excellent BBC piece on workplace adaptability. 

Collaborative teams need to be flexible and adaptable, able to adjust to changing priorities, deadlines and goals. They must be able to pivot when plans don’t work out or new challenges arise, be open to new ideas and perspectives and be willing to learn and grow even when challenges hit. COVID-19 is one example where lockdown forced us to be at home — but organisations that adapted to the new normal thrived and found new ways to not only embrace the challenge but go beyond it. 

💡Questions about bookings, reservations, 5-star ratings or 1-star ratings, every point of contact requires a specific approach. If your team wants to meet customer expectations, they have to be adaptable.

3. Awareness (self and of others)

Finally, awareness — both self and of others. In my career spanning more than a decade, I have found awareness as one of the key attributes of successful collaborative teams. Employees should not only be aware of what is going on with their colleagues in one-to-one conversations, but they should also be able to pick up the mood and feelings of their work environment.

This makes the workplace a welcoming place to work at. Team members with high awareness can recognise their own strengths, weaknesses and emotions — and use this self-awareness to inform their actions and decisions. They can better understand the perspectives, needs and emotions of others, in addition to identifying and managing their own biases and assumptions. 

💡Customers are people, right? They want to be treated with empathy whenever they reach out to your team. No matter how annoyed they are at first, empathy will help your service team a long way. It can be the difference between losing a customer, or turning someone into a loyal brand ambassador.

What is a good example of team collaboration?

This can vary from team to team. Now, when I look around me (I work for a SaaS company that created a customer engagement platform) I reckon — our product development team is a great example of team collaboration in action, particularly when it comes to the crucial partnership between designers and engineers. 

Product development processes

Product development teams typically consist of individuals with diverse expertise, such as designers, engineers, project managers, and in most cases, even marketers. Designers bring their creative vision and user-centred approach, while engineers provide their technical expertise and problem-solving skills. Marketers offer valuable insights into customer needs and market trends, and project managers ensure the project stays on track and meets its objectives.

Imagine the lack of collaboration between them and a project that would otherwise take a month could take months. However, when designers and engineers collaborate effectively, they can create innovative and successful products that meet both aesthetic and functional requirements. Designers can provide engineers, in real-time, with a deep understanding of user needs and preferences, while engineers could give them insights into the technical feasibility of the design. 

I recently read Walter Issacson’s biography of Elon Musk, where he talks about Musk’s design and production philosophy at length. One key takeaway, very much related to what we are discussing right now, is the impact of collaboration between the design and production teams. In the words of Franz Von Holzhausen, the Chief Designer at Tesla, who is quoted in the book, “The vision was that we would create designers who thought like engineers and engineers who thought like designers.” This sums up the importance of collaboration in a product development team. 

From customer support to customer success

Of course, when I look at my own team I see plenty of effective collaboration. And that's good because it's essential in providing exceptional service and ensuring customer satisfaction.

Let's take a recent situation: a customer wants to set up an integration with Trengo. The support team receives the initial question about setup of an integration and, after a preliminary assessment, realises that to set up the integration they need input from multiple departments.

To resolve this efficiently, my support team member collaborates with the customer success manager, technical support, and even the product development team using our own platform and product Trengo, a unified communication platform. Trengo facilitates seamless communication by integrating various channels such as email, chat, and social media into one interface, that's great for customers. But internally, Trengo also allows for all teams to easily work together.

1. The conversation is labeled under question and integration. We can immediately see what it's about

2. Because the label lets us know it's a question for support, the conversation is routed to this team automatically

3. Automation informs the customer directly that we're taking care of their ask, and how long we plan to take

4. By @tagging each other in the initial customer question, the support, success and product teams can get to the right answer. Without the customers being bothered by any discussions.

5. Any updates on the 'conversation status' are updated in the customer profile, so the entire support team is up to date on this question.

6. Once the correct answer is formed, the customer is updated by my support colleague, and this conversation is templated. So when we encounter another question like this, we have the answer!

This seamless collaboration ensures that the customer feels valued and supported, reinforcing their confidence in the company's commitment to their satisfaction.

What is the objective of team collaboration?

The primary objective of team collaboration is to achieve shared goals or outcomes more effectively. How does team collaboration achieve this end goal? 

Here’s how: 

  • Pooling resources and expertise — teams can access a broader range of knowledge and skills when people with different backgrounds, experiences and expertise are brought together. No problem is bigger and no solution is impossible! 
  • Generating innovative solutions — different perspectives can lead to novel approaches and solutions that individuals working alone might not have considered. According to a News Corp study, collaborative businesses innovate 17% of the time and are 70% more likely to do so than businesses that do not collaborate. 
  • Improved decision-making — businesses that have effective collaboration mechanisms are more likely to avoid common behaviour patterns that lead to sub-optimal decisions. Because when individuals collaborate, they can identify potential issues, risks and opportunities that might otherwise be overlooked by a single individual.
  • Increased efficiency and productivity — when tasks are divided among team members based on their strengths and expertise, work can be accomplished more efficiently and with better quality. Per a study by Stanford University, teams that work well together are 50% more productive.
  • Stronger relationships — team collaboration builds trust, respect and empathy among team members. When they’re comfortable, they will be themselves and bring great ideas to the table. It’s natural that teams with stronger relationships tend to perform better compared to those teams where individuals hold back their thoughts. 

Strategies for enhancing team collaboration

Effective team collaboration is a skill that can be developed and strengthened with the right strategies and mindset. Let’s explore the key attributes and strategies that can help teams work together at their best.

What does good team collaboration look like? Top 3 attributes of effective collaboration

Good team collaboration is essential for achieving success in any project or organisation—everybody knows that. But what does effective team collaboration look like? 

Here are the top 3 characteristics that I believe are required for effective team collaboration:

1. Everybody knows what’s expected of them

For any team, ahead of anything, team collaboration begins with clear ownership of assigned roles. When team members have clear ownership of their tasks and responsibilities, they are more likely to take accountability for their work—and consequently ensure that it’s done. Clear ownership also helps prevent confusion and overlapping work, as each team member knows exactly what is expected of them. 

Harvard Business Review studied the BBC teams responsible for the broadcasts of the 2006 Proms, the team that televised the 2006 World Cup and a team responsible for daytime television news. These teams consisted of 271 people in total. The teams were divided into smaller teams for different functions, with each person having a clearly defined role, “with so much precision that it keeps friction to a minimum.” Clearly defining the roles: that’s how the BBC pulled it off

The absence of clear ownership, on the other hand, could undermine the team morale—and derail the spirit of team collaboration. 

2. The communication is clear

Good collaboration means team members communicate openly and transparently, share ideas and seek—and respect—feedback. If there are any concerns or misunderstandings, they are addressed in a respectful and constructive manner. This includes regular team meetings, active listening and clear communication of goals, roles and expectations. 

It should also be clear what communication platform is to be officially used for collaboration. For instance if the official communication channel is Slack, team members should use that instead of Skype or WhatsApp. 

While communication among internal teams is important, cross-departmental communication is also critical. At Trengo, our support team is in constant touch with the technical team through international collaboration tools in Trengo’s platform. Beyond these two teams, all our teams are inter-connected, helping us provide an excellent product and fast and efficient support to our customers. 

3. The team understands the “why”

Collaboration is a means to an end rather than an end in itself—and your team must understand that “why” behind their work and use that to fuel their efforts. This includes clearly defined goals and objectives, alignment of individual roles and responsibilities with team goals and regular progress updates and feedback. For instance, the goal of the customer support team would not only be just fast response but overall customer success. Some members would specialise in front-desk support, some technical and some onboarding. But when team members share a common purpose—in this case, customer success—they are more focused and committed to achieving success. 

Best Practices for setting up a collaborative team environment

Setting up a collaborative team environment requires intentional effort and strategic planning. Following are some best practices to consider while you work on your team collaboration project. 

Set clear roles and responsibilities

First, define roles and responsibilities. Clearly defining each team member’s role, responsibilities and expectations is one of the most important elements to avoid confusion and overlapping work. And let this assigning of roles and responsibilities be the beginning of your collaboration between teams and their members. That is, the team should be consulted on new roles, and their feedback about the functionality of their roles should be considered. The roles of who performs the work, who approves it, who is to be consulted and who is to be informed should be clearly spelled out. When roles are defined, everyone is aware of what’s expected of them and nothing slips through the cracks. 

How does it relate to collaboration? Per Harvard Business Review research, “collaboration improves when the roles of individual team members are clearly defined and well understood—when individuals feel that they can do a significant portion of their work independently.” 

Additionally, employees who experience role clarity are 53% more efficient and 27% more effective at work than employees who have role ambiguity. Overall, you could witness a 25% increase in your teamwork performance.

Establish shared goals and objectives

Shared goals and objectives help team members focus on what’s important, prioritise their work and measure their progress. Your request for collaboration with a team member can better be answered if they deem it in line with the overall goal. Develop a shared understanding of the team and tasks’ purpose, goals and key performance indicators (KPIs). A study of more than 1,100 companies—two-thirds of which include collaboration as a stated organisational value — found that the difference between productive and unproductive collaboration can be summed up in one word: purpose

And it makes all the sense — without a shared goal, the roles may be clearly defined, but teams won’t have focus. According to a study by Fierce Inc., more than 97 percent of those surveyed believe the lack of alignment within a team directly impacts the outcome of any given task or project.

Also, goals should be set at different levels and for each major task. For instance, as usually happens, goals are set at the top level and the team is asked to achieve those goals. That’s alright. However, a better approach would be to include the involved team members in goal-setting, especially encouraging them to devise ways for how those goals can be better achieved. 

Similarly — and I have noticed the lack of this in some workplaces — setting goals at the task level. There’s a meeting? State the purpose of the meeting beforehand so that your team is prepared. The product demands a change? Inform your team! 

Effective collaborative tools

Next, choosing the right tools — and using them effectively. There are many types of collaboration tools available, such as project management, file sharing, video conferencing, chat and more. Utilising tools like these can enhance collaboration, manage permissions and maintain visibility. 46% of those with effective tools for collaborating saw their organisation as transparent as compared to 22% who did not. Some tools, even though used for other purposes, offer collaboration capabilities for a seamless experience. 

Your service team needs a platform, a space, for them to work together. With Trengo, for instance, they can collaborate with any team on handling customer conversations. A engagement platform that also caters to collaboration is the key to delivering seamless customer experiences.

Foster open communication

Today, organisations are complex, working in different work environments on tasks that require the collaboration of not only individuals but also teams. According to a Grammarly study, business leaders report increased productivity (72%), increased customer satisfaction (63%) and increased employee confidence (60%) as the top three benefits of effective communication.

That’s why clear and open communication is important. If the communication is ineffective, workplace failures are common, at least for 86% of people. But with open communication, teams can align around a common goal, ensure everyone understands their roles and responsibilities, share knowledge and expertise, provide feedback and constructive criticism and address conflicts and issues promptly. 

Also, this communication should not just be between team members but also between the leadership and employees. 90% of respondents to a survey believed that decision-makers should seek out other opinions before making a final decision. But the problem? Approximately 40% felt that leaders and decision-makers consistently failed to do so.

Image source

Importance of maintaining security in collaborative tools

Collaborative tools have made life easier at the workplace — communication, file sharing and project management are effortless. However, with the increased use of these tools comes an increased risk of security breaches and data leaks. According to a survey by Insight Partners, 43% of IT leaders believe online collaboration tools pose a security risk. But you can play safe, if you can implement robust cybersecurity measures. 

For instance: 

  1. Use secure collaboration platforms—choose collaboration tools that have built-in security features, such as encryption, access controls and audit logs. Do not just rely on any online tools—read about the tool, user reviews and their own statement on cybersecurity. 
  2. Set clear access controls—not all members of the team need the same access level. Define user roles and permissions to control who can access, edit or share sensitive information. Any edits made should be documented and made by those with authorisation. 
  3. Use secure file sharing—use collaboration tools that offer secure file sharing features, such as encrypted file transfer and access controls.
  4. Secrets management—for secrets management, you can use tools that securely store and manage sensitive information such as API keys, passwords and certificates. 
  5. Implement data loss prevention—use collaboration tools that offer data loss prevention (DLP) features to detect and prevent sensitive data from being shared or leaked. Most tools won’t offer DLP; in that case, you may choose third-party tools specifically designed for this purpose.  
  6. Use two-factor authentication—this should be a standard practice for all tools and platforms that require login. 
  7. Set clear security policies—establish clear security policies and guidelines for using collaboration tools and sharing sensitive information. Also, ensure that you comply with the relevant privacy laws, such as GDPR, HIPAA, CCPA and other local privacy laws where the business operates. 
  8. Provide security awareness training—provide security awareness training to users to educate them on security best practices and the importance of maintaining security in the workplace for all tools used.

Evolution of collaboration tools

People depend upon each other — they could never hope to deliver excellent customer service without working together. So, how has collaboration progressed from simple face-to-face interaction to modern, AI-powered platforms?

Early collaboration tools (1980s-2000s)

Computers slowly became common and the term Computer-Supported Collaborative Work (CSCW) came out in this era (1986). The first collaboration tools emerged, though basic, but still enabled remote communication and basic collaboration. Email (Outlook) became a primary mode of communication, and instant messaging platforms like AOL Instant Messenger made real-time chat easier. Software like Microsoft Project, Lotus Notes and Microsoft Exchange Server helped teams organise and track progress. 

While these tools were a step forward, they were often clunky and limited in their functionality. Comes 2000s!

Web 2.0 and social media (2000s-2010s)

The rise of Web 2.0 and social media revolutionised team collaboration. With the launch of Skype in 2003, real-time communication and knowledge sharing became possible. In a way, this was the era where forward-thinking companies began to reimagine the traditional work processes. Social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter further helped teams to connect beyond workplaces. 

Online project management tools like Basecamp and Asana, and CRM software like Salesforce emerged, which provided a centralised platform for teams to work together.

Cloud computing and SaaS (2010s-present)

While cloud computing and SaaS were there even before 2010, it started gaining traction in the 2010s. Both cloud computing and Software as a Service (SaaS) enabled teams to access collaboration tools from anywhere, at any time. 

Virtual meeting platforms like Zoom and Google Meet made remote work a reality — teams could hold virtual meetings and collaborate from any part of the world. Cloud storage platforms like Google Drive and Dropbox allowed teams to share files and collaborate on documents. Collaboration platforms like Slack and Microsoft Teams are used daily, in addition to project management tools like Trello and Jira. 

Plus platforms that focused on helping specific teams, like customer service and support teams, with their jobs became more and more prominent. Nowadays, if you want to cater to customers via any channel online you need an advanced customer engagement tool to work with if you want to be competitive.

Modern collaboration tools (present day)

Today, team collaboration tools are more advanced than ever, with features like artificial intelligence, machine learning and virtual reality. It’s AI everywhere, from AI-powered project management tools to AI-powered customer operations platforms to predictive analytics and automated workflows. Additionally, given the complexity of workflow processes, there are industry-specific tools and solutions. And it’s not stopping here— you can expect that the best is yet to come. 

Collaborate on the very best service

Whether you’re a large corporation or a small startup, it’s time to start building a collaborative setting that empowers your team. They can't make customers happy on their own. They need the right setup, in order to collaborate well on customer asks.

Businesses that prioritise teamwork and invest in creating conducive environments see increased productivity, happier employees, and ultimately, better results. Think happy employees and customers all around.

And if you want happier employees and happier customers, consider Trengo. With its robust team collaboration capabilities, Trengo can help you unlock the full potential of your customer support team.

Sign up for a demo today and start collaborating better!

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